House delays approval of Comelec's 2010 budget

By Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com, Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 08 2009 01:57 PM | Updated as of Oct 09 2009 12:26 AM

The House of Representatives on Thursday suspended plenary deliberations on the P10.5 billion proposed budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in 2010 because of hanging questions on the legality and constitutionality of the automation of the 2010 polls.

“We shall hold a special caucus for the Comelec--to be attended no less by the chairman of the Commission and his technical staff--so that we may be able to address legal issues which are appropriately and properly raised today and the many other concerns which have been forwarded to this humble respresentation for resolution,” said House appropriations chair Quirino Rep. Junie Cua on Thursday.

Cua announced before the plenary that the caucus will be held on October 14 (Wednesday) at 10 a.m.

Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia, who is pushing for partial automation, reiterated in the plenary alleged legal and constitutional violations that the Comelec will be liable for if it insists on using the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine.

“It is not my intention to really delay the [budget of the Comelec]. I would just like to point out the seriousness of the legal and constitutional problems in connection to the proposed automation of the May 10, 2010 elections,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the use of PCOS is a violation of Republic Act 9369, which calls for full automation of the election process. Garcia have been saying the proper technology is the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) election system, which was the one used in the August 2008 automated elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Under the Comelec plan, voting will still be manual. Only the counting and canvassing will be automated. PCOS automatically counts the ballots in the precinct level. Results will be electronically transmitted to the national canvassing center.

The law also calls for pilot testing in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, Garcia argued. Automation was only tested in the ARMM, using machines different from the one to be used in 2010.

Garcia is pushing for manual voting and counting in the municipal and provincial levels while automating only the canvassing in the national level. Garcia filed in September a petition before the Supreme Court to stop Comelec from implementing poll automation in 2010. (See related story: New petition vs poll automation)

Rush to approve budget
The House plenary has started on Tuesday its two-week marathon deliberations on the 2010 budget. Since Wednesday, the House began convening plenary sessions at 9:30 a.m. instead of the usual 4 p.m. schedule. They also agreed to hold sessions on Thursdays and Fridays.

House Speaker Prospero Nograles said they will approve the budget before Congress takes a recess on October 17.
 
The House plenary has taken up the budgets of the Department of Trade and Industry, Commission on Higher Education, State Universities and Colleges, the Judiciary, and the Civil Service Commission.
 
So far, only the budget of the Judiciary was revised to restore its 2009 allocation of P13.3 billion. Malacanang proposed to reduce its budget to P13 billion. There were no discussions yet which department or agency will suffer a budget cut to accommodate the P300 million increase to the Judiciary's budget. – abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak